Thespians on Diction

Image by: Mentalfloss

Once, during the intermission of a play, my music director stood up from the pit, banged on the stage, and yelled, “Diction!” I thought it was really weird that he would do that, especially when there were still people in the audience. I understand now, though. Diction is one of the most important parts of a performance. Don’t know what it means? says it is:



  1. the accent, inflection, intonation, and speech-sound quality manifested by an individual speaker, usually judged in terms of prevailing standards of acceptability; enunciation.

Got it? Good. I’ll say it in English, too, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t always speak dictionary. Basically, diction means you pronounce your consonants sharply, like you’re stabbing them, and your vowels roundly, like you are trying way too hard to push them out of your mouth. It’s really important, because if you don’t pronounce your words, it’s gonna sound like this: “Ishnhnshhshhnnushh.” And NOBODY is paying to hear you talk like your mouth is full of slugs. That’s disgusting, and besides, you aren’t Ron Weasley in the second book and you don’t want to be. So work on it. Don’t know how? Here are some diction warm-ups that will really help you hit those words.


What to do to die today at a minute or two ‘till two?

A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.

And they’ll beat a tattoo at twenty-to-two

With a ratatta tattata tattata too.

And the dragon will come when he hears the drum

At a minute or two ‘till two today,

At a minute or two ‘till two.


To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock

In a pestilential prison with a life-long lock.

Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp, shock

From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big, black block.


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

A peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

where is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

TO MAKE THIS ONE HARDER, SAY, “Peter Piper, the pickled-pepper picker,” INSTEAD OF JUST, “Peter Piper.”


She sells sea-shells at the seashore.

The shells she sells are surely shells.

So if she sells shells at the seashore,

I’m sure she sells seashore shells.


A tree toad loved a she-toad,
Who lived up in a tree.
He was a two-toed tree toad,
But a three-toed toad was she.
The two-toed tree toad tried to win,
The three-toed she-toad’s heart,
For the two-toed tree toad loved the ground,
That the three-toed tree toad trod.
But the two-toed tree toad tried in vain.
He couldn’t please her whim.
From her tree toad bower,
With her three-toed power,
The she-toad vetoed him.


This warm-up is a song. For the tune and rhythm, click this link and listen to the CHORUS ONLY.

All I want is a proper cup of coffee,

made in a proper copper coffee pot.

I may be off my dot,

but I want a cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot.

Iron coffee pots and tin coffee pots,

they are no use to me. (Clap x2)

If I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot,

I’ll have a cup of tea.



  • A big black bug bit a big black bear, and the big black bear bled blood.
  • Red leather, yellow leather. (x10)
  • Unique New York. (x4)
  • You know you need unique New York. (x4)

See? These are all pretty basic tongue-twisters, but they are all perfect for practicing diction, as well as pacing and overall oral ability. Try them, practice them, and you will see the improvement.

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Audrey Blinman

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